Loving Kids Creates Loving Kids
“Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens,” or so our Psalm for today says.
Sometimes that seems very true, especially when your five-year-old asks an endearingly insightful question about God.
Sometimes that seems less true, such as when the kids are having a screaming fight in the back seat of the car or a meltdown in the grocery aisle.
There’s less majesty in that moment and more a feeling of, “Having kids–whose idea was this?”
Do you think God ever asks the same question about us?
Creating humanity—having kids—whose idea was this?
It’s certainly possible.
God knows we’ve caused God enough heartache over the years that God could hardly be blamed for rethinking the decision to become a parent.
But what we observe from our scriptures today is that God wants for us what we want for our own children: a safe, happy, nurturing environment for us to grow up in and reach our full potential.
Today we have the story of creation in Genesis, and we observe the dedicated care and attention God puts into creating the world in which we will live.
Bear in mind that this is the Almighty God, who presumably could snap God’s fingers and poof! There are galaxies within galaxies.
But no—God takes time.
God takes six whole days, and of course we understand now that those six days were also millennia of stars and planets cooling and single celled organisms developing into more complex organisms, the long walk toward life of which we are the ultimate beneficiaries.
God does not rush the home that God is creating for us.
What else do we want for our own children as we create their environment?
We see God creating boundaries in our Genesis story—the light divided from the darkness, the waters separated from the land, the sun and the moon assigned their own times to shine in the sky.
That is not for God’s benefit—God doesn’t need chaos tamed down into clear-cut categories.
That’s for us.
And those physical boundaries prefigure the behavioral boundaries that God will soon create for us.
They are boundaries that we seldom adhere to, and in fact it doesn’t take Adam and Eve long to transgress them.
But even when we chafe against our struggle to live as people of integrity, to obey God’s law of love that undergirds our universe, we do at our deepest level understand that God creates those boundaries because they ultimately will help us flourish.
A place of our own that is safe—this is creation.
But that’s not enough.
A padded white cell would presumably be safe for God’s children. But God wants more.
God wants beauty and life, plants and animals and weather and mountains and all the good things that enrich our environment so vividly.
For what is the Garden of Eden?
It is essentially the playground God has created for God’s children to dwell within.
It is where God wants to see us grow up—safe, happy, and beckoned always toward growth in love and understanding.
This is how God parents us, and this is how we seek to parent our children.
And here I don’t just mean our individual biological children.
I mean our children as the children of this church.
We, as a Christian community of adults, are parents, elders, and caretakers of every child who walks through the door of St. Francis In-The-Fields Episcopal Church.
Whether you have five children yourself in your immediate family or no children at all, in this church, you are a parent.
Whether you attend the 8 a.m. service where there are just a few children or the 10 a.m. where there are many, you are an elder and a trusted adult in all of those children’s lives and you have a responsibility toward them.
And that’s one of the great parts of being part of Christian community—you are no longer parenting alone.
You have all your fellow disciples as your partners, helpers, and friends in the task of raising up your children into healthy Christian maturity.
We explicitly promise to do it every time we baptize a child in this church.
The celebrant asks, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?”
Well, today we’re saying yes to that question in a very concrete way. Today is the launch of our Prayground.
You have heard Father Davies and me explain over the last several weeks this new initiative at St. Francis.
We are seeking to provide an environment in church where our children can engage in age-appropriate worship activities.
It is a place of their own at the heart of our worship, inside the most important space in our building.
They will be able to worship here with us, to be part of the living sacramental community that, although they may not know it now, will be so very formative for them later in life.
There are all kinds of statistics about how the presence of nurturing adults in faith community, good Sunday school, and the ability to participate in worship at their own level directly impacts retention of children in church in their adulthood.
But scripture isn’t full of numbers and statistics, it’s a story, so I will tell you my own story.
I’m a cradle Episcopalian, and from the earliest age I can remember, I wanted to be in “Big Church” as I called it, rather than in the nursery.
And I can tell you, kids are listening in church.
When I was five, after hearing every week in the Gloria that Jesus was seated on the right hand of the Father, I asked my dad, “Doesn’t God’s hand get tired if Jesus is sitting on it all the time?” Theological curiosity starts early.
My memories are like snapshots of what it is like to be a kid in a church that cared about me.
On Sunday mornings at age 6, the kindly older couple who sat in the pew behind us would help me find the pages in the hymnal.
On Christmas Eve at age 8, marching into church with all my sisters in our Christmas dresses that my mom had sewed for us, getting the worst seat at the end of the pew by the old stained glass window from the 1880s that leaked cold air, but loving how special it all felt anyway.
When my mom served as the organist, going with her to the church at night when she practiced, and the way it smelled, dark and empty and mysterious but holy.
Being so nervous the first time I served as an acolyte but also so excited to have been asked to help.
And because the church had loved me well, I loved it back.
When I was in college and freshman loneliness tipped over into real depression, I went to church, because I felt safe there. It was my haven.
And before long, I found myself considering seminary.
A big part of that was because the church was my home, and when I found out that I could spend the rest of my life in the church, constantly searching for a deeper immersion in the mystery of God, I was sold.
Verse 4 of Psalm 84 perfectly expressed my sense of the church as my home and I carried it with me into my ordination: “The sparrow has found her a house by the side of your altars, O Lord of Hosts, my King and my God.”
I’m just one story of how the church loving a kid turns into a kid loving the church.
But the same thing happens in our scriptures—God loving us kids turning us kids into loving God.
And so we understand how our community parenting of our St. Francis kids has implications so far beyond what we do here today.
When Mrs. Hayward helped me find my page in the hymnal at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in 1988, she had no idea that twenty years later I’d become a priest.
But I might not have without her taking that action. She was part of creating the environment that led me on the path of following Jesus now.
And we’re a part of creating that environment for our kids today. That’s why we’re so excited about this Prayground project.
We seek to create for our children in this church in our Prayground what God has built for us in Creation: a safe, beautiful environment where they know that they are loved and they are helped to grow in God.
This small space in our nave has a big purpose.
But really, this whole church is our Prayground, for all of us adults as well.
Here we learn about the loving boundaries God has placed on our lives.
Here we witness the glory of God in one another and the work we are given to do.
Here is our own Garden of Eden with all of its promise and joy.
We seek to give to our children today in this Prayground a holy gift, and may it be everything to them that we hope.
So we submit it to God with the prayer that we may again hear the words of scripture in Genesis: “And God saw that it was good.”
St. Francis In-The-Fields Prayground
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